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Address by the Vice-Chancellor Emeritus to the University

1 October 2003

Having retired from the office of Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir ALEC BROERS delivered the following address to the University:

I am speaking to you today only as a member of the Regent House. My seven years as Vice-Chancellor came to an end at midnight last night, as indeed did my nineteen years as a University Officer. But I shall take this opportunity, as previous outgoing Vice-Chancellors have done, to make a few brief comments about the past year and about my time in office.

It is of course up to the Vice-Chancellor to reflect on the University today, to set the scene for the future and to place this occasion in an historical context, even perhaps to bring her anthropological skills to bear.

This is only the second time that this ceremony has occurred in this particular form and, unlike Alison Richard, I did not speak in the Senate House on the first of October 1996. At a lunch on the same day, however, I did speak of the need for the University to be outward-facing, to recognize its responsibilities to society, locally, nationally, and internationally, and to ensure that its ideas were used for the benefit of mankind. I used the metaphor of building bridges and stressed that these should be built to all the sectors of society that we influence, not just to industry and business. I was also concerned about more pragmatic matters, of the need for example to adjust our salary levels so that they reflected the individual contributions made by members of our society, and to clarify the way in which we administer our activities.

The transition from the previous 35 years of my career was considerable. Despite carrying significant administrative responsibilities, my motivation had always been my research but the pressures of the Vice-Chancellorship meant that I had to abandon research. However, the compensations of working with talented colleagues on the issues confronting this great institution, and of seeing an increase in its interactions with the outside world, have made up for the loss. The University's performance, as assessed by government and the media, has also been gratifying, as illustrated, for example, by the dominance that we exhibited in the recent Daily Telegraph 'table of tables', and so much of this excellence is attributable to the Colleges. I must also record the pleasure I have derived from interacting with our friends, colleagues, and benefactors from outside the University who have contributed so magnificently to our activities during my time in office: in monetary terms the vast sum of around £450 million, which has yielded scholarships for hundreds of students, new initiatives in the arts and humanities, and new or refurbished buildings and facilities for many of the University's Departments, but their help and advice have been of comparable value especially in providing a perspective on the eccentricities of our society that was difficult at times to obtain from within. My appreciation goes especially to Adrian Cadbury and David Simon who have chaired the Cambridge Foundation and to Gurnee Hart who has chaired Cambridge in America, and Peter Agar and John Hanselman who have managed the University's development programme. Our collaboration with MIT, now directed so vigorously by Mike Kelly and Ed Crawley, has provided a similarly valuable perspective, and I would like to say what a privilege and a pleasure it has been to work with the President of MIT, Chuck Vest, and with Alex Trotman who has chaired the CMI Board.

On the issue of salaries we have made some progress as we have with our administration and governance. At least the University will now have an adequate team of Pro-Vice-Chancellors to support the Vice-Chancellor and there will be two external members on our Council to broaden its perspective and improve its ability to lead the University, and to provide an external chairman for the Audit Committee. The administrative system will also be truly unified for the first time under a single leader, and there is an increase in the number of members of the Regent House required to call into question the recommendations of the elected Council. These advances are all that is needed at this time.

Aspects of these speeches that have been repeated down the years have been those of congratulations, farewells, and thanks. In the last year several of our colleagues have been honoured nationally and internationally. John Sulston received the Nobel Prize, Dan Mackenzie was appointed a Companion of Honour, and John Baker, Patrick Bateson, Alan Fersht, Richard Friend, and David King were knighted. Michael Gregory, Malcolm Grant, Colin Humphreys, and John Tiley received CBEs. Our congratulations go to them all for their well-deserved recognition.

Sadly we have lost many colleagues in the past year, and I can name only some of them. Alison Shrubsole for nearly fourteen years Principal of Homerton, George Clark, beloved Verger of Great St Mary's for over a quarter of a century, George Guest, highly respected and admired as organist of St John's College for thirty years, Sidney Kenderdine, a feature of this house as Praelector of Pembroke for thirty years, Lord Dacre, Master of Peterhouse for seven years, George Salt, a Fellow of King's for almost seven decades, at the great age of 99, Geoffrey Kirk, Regius Professor of Greek, Bernard Williams, former Provost of King's and Professor of Philosophy, who we admitted to an honorary degree only last summer, and Brooke Crutchley, former University Printer, who died at the age of 96. If I may mention one loss which I felt particularly strongly, it is that of Roger Needham, philosopher, engineer, and entrepreneur, generous in his time, convivial in manner, an inspiration to generations of students, a benefactor, a loyal friend. He is sadly missed.

Many colleagues leave us today, and I will mention only a few. David Newland, my friend and successor as the Head of the Department of Engineering and one of my hard-working Deputy Vice-Chancellors, retires. So do Stephen Fleet, Master of Downing and another of my Deputies, after a second career in College, and Nicholas Branson, the ever-knowledgeable and ceaselessly skilled practitioner of examining and of planning of all kinds. David Livesey and Joanna Womack step down respectively as Secretary General of the Faculties and Treasurer having made innumerable contributions to the success of the University across a much broader spectrum than most members of the Regent House will appreciate. John Williams, recently Esquire Bedell and before that Safety Officer, retires. He has been a good friend in my laboratory and in the Senate-House.

Finally I would like to express my thanks; and again I cannot be comprehensive in my list for time as the Proctors wait for no one and the clock will shortly toll my demission, or possible my manumission. My first thanks are to our Chancellor who for twenty-seven years has supported the University and its Vice-Chancellors more generously and fully than I can describe. I thank my Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Malcolm Grant (who we wish well as Provost of University College London) and Anne Lonsdale, who together have carried much of the load which is now heavily to burden five Pro-Vice-Chancellors. I am deeply grateful, as indeed the University should be, to the fifty or more individuals who selflessly chair, on the Vice-Chancellor's appointment, the hundred or more Boards, Syndicates, and Committees that keep the wheels of Cambridge turning. The Registrary, Tim Mead, whose strong and experienced hand has been invaluable as we have worked together daily on the operations of the University, and, naturally, his large and talented team of officers. I would like especially to mention Graham Allen with whom I have worked most and whose clear and straightforward manner I have enjoyed, David Adamson who has master minded the University's largest building programme, perhaps ever, Andrew Reid who has brought order to our finances, and Peter Deer who is bringing professionalism to our personnel practices and ensuring that we offer equal opportunities to all. I also thank the Press and Publications Office who have done so much to improve our external and our internal communications.

I have valued and gained much pleasure from my contacts with the students, especially those who have contributed to the decision-making processes in the University and the same can be said for the assistant staff at all levels. Our house has run faultlessly through the devotion of Margaret Stevens and Anne Sawtell both of whom retire today. My fellow workers in the Vice-Chancellor's Office, Geoffrey Skelsey, Josephine Sykes, and Jackie von Glos, with the part-time assistance of Peter Tee and Jonathan Hewitt, have supported and tolerated me in a manner that is beyond praise. I will be forever grateful for the way in which they have handled the onslaught of correspondence and cheerfully and competently fixed the impossible problems many of which have been of my own making. Lastly I sincerely thank my wife who, with remarkable sang froid, has shared with me the highs and the lows of these seven years whilst carrying her own full agenda, and who is still here today.

But before finishing this speech, which is the last formal act of my Vice-Chancellorship, may I say what a joy and a satisfaction it is to be succeeded by Alison Richard whose record as a scientist and university administrator speaks for itself, but with whom I have felt an immediate affinity and friendship, perhaps reinforced by the Transatlantic experience that we share. The University has a fine Vice-Chancellor.


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Cambridge University Reporter, 8 October 2003
Copyright © 2011 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.